Last week I extensively detailed some of the investment problems plaguing the Broadway musical Rebecca, which was due to be in rehearsals already but had just been delayed again. All through last week Ben Sprecher, its lead producer who was making his Broadway debut but was once best known as a “tough and unforgiving” Off-Broadway landlord, was assuring the cast that rehearsals would finally begin two days ago. But now the show is officially dead.
In the latest twist, replacement financing for their supposedly dead investor was, apparently, very quickly put in place — but last Friday lost all over again.
In a statement it was explained that “On Friday, September 28th, at approximately 1pm, Sprecher and [co-producer Louise] Forlenza were informed that an extremely malicious e-mail, filled with lies and innuendo, had been sent directly to the new investor that morning from an anonymous third party. The e-mail was designed to scare this investor away and it succeeded. The investor withdrew.”
On Monday, the New York Times reported that Sprecher’s lawyer Ronald G Russo had told them that a criminal investigation is now underway.
According to the paper,
In an interview Mr. Russo, a longtime criminal defence lawyer, said that Mr. Sprecher’s computer might have been hacked and confidential e-mails stolen ‘as part of some kind of plot to scare off investors and doom the show.’ He said that Mr. Sprecher had turned over hundreds of e-mails to investigators. But Mr. Russo declined requests for several pieces of corroborating information that might shed light on one of the most troubled productions in recent Broadway history.
The name of the new investor who had been scared away, Russo explained, was supposed to be completely confidential, “so when he opened this e-mail on Friday, he nearly fell off his chair. And he wondered: ‘Who the hell is this guy Sprecher? I told him not to tell anyone about me’.”
We may, of course, wonder who the hell this latest mystery investor is whose confidentiality had apparently been breached, as no one’s saying, just as no one has been able to find any trace of the existence or death of Paul Abrams, the apparently dead investor, either. Not even Mr Sprecher: according to his lawyer,
Very shortly we’ll learn whether there was a Paul Abrams, and whether or not he died, as Ben Sprecher was told. But I can tell you with certainty that if there was no Paul Abrams, Ben Sprecher had absolutely no idea that this was made up. Ben Sprecher is blameless.
Blameless though he may (or may not) be, the problems are now going to start mounting up for him. The New York Times quotes John Breglio, a leading lawyer who works on and produces Broadway shows himself (including the last Broadway revival of A Chorus Line), saying that Mr Sprecher’s company was liable, irrespective of a criminal investigation or the possibility that Mr. Sprecher was a victim of fraud.
He has enormous civil liability, and a criminal investigation isn’t going to deter any lawyer from trying to get investors’ money back.
As Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, tells the New York Times,
Broadway is just such a risky investment, and I’ve never seen a show have the financial twists and turns like this one.
A poster on TalkinBroadway’s All That Chat bulletin board summed up those twists and turns very succinctly, saying,
There are examples of almost everything that went wrong in this show in some show that went on to be a success. But this one seems to have some disconnect to reality at every turn. Are there shows where the lead producer has never spoken to a substantial investor? Yes. But someone has: where is that person? Are there shows where money is promised but it doesn’t arrive until the eleventh hour? Yes, but how was it ‘agreed to’ if neither orally or in writing? This is the stuff of legends. Years from now people will be talking about Ben Sprecher.
At least he has assured himself of a place in history. I can’t wait to read the book that will hopefully be written about it one day.